If the only way your child knows how to fall asleep is for you to rock him, let him sleep in your bed or rub his back, then chances are he has a sleep-onset association disorder — a sleep disorder where a child’s ability to fall asleep is connected to something in his environment.
“Kids, and adults, often wake up multiple times each night; they just don’t remember it because they go right back to sleep,” says Psychologist and Sleep Disorders Expert William David Brown, Ph.D., from Children’s Medical Center.
When a child has a sleep-onset association disorder and needs an environmental factor (such as you) to get back to sleep, he will cry, fuss or do whatever he has to do to get you back in the room so you can help him get back to sleep.
According to Dr. Brown, the best way to treat a sleep-onset association disorder is with the Extinction Method (often called the “cry it out method“); however, some parents have a hard time with it and elect to follow one of the other, less upsetting methods. These methods are designed to teach your child to fall asleep independently at all sleep times.
Tips to Teach Your Child to Fall Asleep
You want your child to become self-soothing, and the best way to do that is to put the child to bed and ignore him until morning, with the exception of safety checks or illness checks.
a) Develop a bedtime routine (e.g., bath, pajamas, book, bed).
b) Leave the room after putting the child to bed.
c) If your child is protesting or fussing, go in on a fixed schedule (e.g., after the first five minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes).
d) Keep your interactions minimal when you go in the room. For example, just say, “It’s bedtime,” and then leave the room.
e) Gradually move to longer intervals before entering or re-entering the room.
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Another method that may help with the treatment of sleep-onset association disorder is to offer the child a bedtime pass. Let your child make his own pass, then explain to him that it can be used to get up one time during the night for any reason. If he gets up, he has to give up the pass and can’t get it back until the next night. After a while, your child will start to hoard the pass because he’s afraid he might need it later.
Leave us a comment to tell us about how you help your child to fall asleep.